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Grant not enough to cover runway expansion at Massena International Airport

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MASSENA - While the recently announced $4.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of transportation will cover the cost of repaving one of the airports runways, Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said the grant is not enough to pay for a runway expansion project.

Mr. Gray said the grant provided Massena with exactly what they were looking for, noting that while airport expansion has been discussed for years, it has never actually been formally studied.

“There are a lot of challenges when you start talking about runway expansions,” he said. “First of all you have to find $10 million to $15 million to pay for it. The town could bond for it and extend the runway tomorrow, but then how do you pay for it other than through raising taxes.”

Mr. Gray said raising taxes to pay for a project at the airport isn’t something he wants to do.

“If you could show a corresponding increase in revenue that would cover the costs, that would be one way to do it,” he said.

While Mr. Gray said “most people” would like to see an expanded airport with bigger planes in Massena, it’s not quite just as simple as expanding the runway.

“When you go above planes with 20 passengers you become a different kind of airport,” he said. “With the change in classification, you have an increased responsibility in fire protection and an increase in operating expenses.”

Before the town could get serious about increasing the size of a runway at the airport, Mr. Gray said there needs to be some serious discussion.

“There needs to be a business plan put together that would show what a longer runway would cost and things that could happen that would help to offset the costs,” he said. “You could potentially increase the $200,000 debt we’re currently running at the airport if there is no corresponding revenue.”

Should the airport eclipse the 10,000 passenger mark, Mr. Gray said the town would earn an additional $1 million subsidy.

“That would really help,” he said, adding that while usage is up at Massena, the 10,000 passenger mark isn’t likely to be hit this year.

“Usage is up at the airport, but we’re still running about 50 percent capacity,” he said, adding he’s hopeful that over the next several months Massena will see a boost in Canadian ridership, similar to what they’ve seen in Ogdensburg.

“Cape Air has been marketing in Ottawa longer than they have anywhere else,” Mr. Gray said, adding they have just recently started a marketing campaign in Cornwall and other Canadian communities close to Massena than Ogdensburg.

“Canadians like to cross on the ground and fly to U.S destinations from the U.S. because it’s a lot cheaper,” he said, adding customs “on the ground” is easier to deal with than customs at the airport.

Going back to September of 2012 and through April of 2013, Ogdensburg has seen 683 Canadian passengers compared to 201 for Massena.

Overall ridership at the Massena airport is up this year with first quarter ridership increasing from 1,070 to 1,161, an increase of 91 passengers or 8.5 percent.

Second quarter ridership did drop a bit from 1,242 to 1,187, a decrease of 55 riders or 4.43 percent, but overall through the first half of 2013 ridership is up 36 passengers.

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